It’s near the end of October, and the air is crisp and cool.  The wind blows hard here on the prairie, the thermometer failing to reflect the chill you feel on your skin and in your bones.  A smattering of pinks, reds, and oranges coat the white-cored, cottony fingers floating against the pale-blue morning sky.  We are off to church early this Reformation Sunday morning, for the children are to sing in the choir and must rehearse their song before the congregation has gathered.

On our way, my youngest daughter watches the banks of Bear Creek, looking in vain for the turtles she has often seen sunning themselves by the water; but it is early yet, and too cool for them.  The longhorns aren’t out this morning, either.  I tell the children they must be in the trees near the pasture’s back fenceline.  

The leaves are turning now, the yellows and occasional reds showing themselves after having teased us for some time, hinting of the changes to come with almost imperceptible splotches of color.  They will fall quickly, as they always do here—here and gone and back again.  

And so we renew our faith, following the cycle of the Church calendar.  The service we will follow today is one written by Martin Luther himself, the great reformer employing the talents of Conrad Rupsch and Johann Walther to help him set chants to music, to write a hymn paraphrasing the Nicene Creed, and to tell the message of justification by faith alone in glorious song.  In one deeply moving hymn written about 1542, he prayed for the protection of Christendom from the Turks:

Lord, Keep us steadfast in Thy Word;


Curb those who fain by craft and sword 

Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son

And set at naught all He hath done.

It is the first of Luther’s hymns the children learned in the church’s grammar school, where each day is begun with song and prayer.  Its petitions for strength of faith and divine protection seem more appropriate than ever as the postmodern West, no friend to hopes for a renewed Christendom, is confronted by the “Turks” in a new and terrible form:

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known, 

For Thou art Lord of Lords alone

Defend Thy Christendom that we

May evermore sing praise to Thee.

It may be that a faith tested in the crucible of conflict, of sudden death and certain sorrow, will be one that can thrive again.  And so we sing:

O Comforter of priceless worth,


Send peace and unity on earth.

Support us in our final strife

And lead us out of death to life.

The Sanctus, composed in 1526 for Luther’s German Mass, is based on passages from Isaiah, chapter 6:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.


Above it stood the seraphims . . . And one cried unto another, and said Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

During the distribution of the Lord’s Supper, the congregation sings “O Lord, We Praise Thee,” a hymn set to an old German folk tune.  The pastor blesses our son, who is surprisingly solemn as he kneels before the altar, his five-year-old eyes shifting from the altar to the communicants to the smoky light that penetrates the stained glass above us.  I ask God to bolster our spirits for the trials to come, then I take the Host and drink from the chalice.

The church bulletin recalls that the young Luther was troubled by the question of his salvation.  Born in 1483, Luther died in 1546.  We sing his “Our Father, Thou in Heaven Above,” each verse elaborating upon the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Driving home, I find myself humming hymns written nearly half a millennium ago in a place I have never seen, sung first by people now long gone.

A lonely longhorn raises his majestic head to watch as we go by, his mighty rack framing the town water tower on the rocky hill above him, the hill itself stripped clean to make way for a residential subdivision.  The longhorn shakes his head, turns, and wanders slowly back toward the brush.  We’ll see him again, I trust.